Last Friday I posted the first part of my Sienna review, 2011 Toyota Sienna Review Part 1–Mommy Like?, and it included some of the safety features and kid-specific features that you’ll find on the new Sienna minivan.  Today’s part of the review focuses on the fun stuff!

Driving Fun

I don’t want to admit it, but it’s been terribly fun driving this van. The engine is the most powerful of any vehicle I’ve driven, more so than my dh’s 2004 Lexus RX330 (gosh, I shouldn’t compare a 2011 to a 6 year old vehicle now, should I?). I’ve had to temper my foot on the gas pedal at stop lights because I’ve been giving my family that whiplash effect when we start up, lol, and I’m at highway speeds on local streets without realizing it. Fortunately, I have backseat drivers—“Uh, mom? The speed limit’s 45!”

  • Engine: 266-hp 3.5L 6-Cyl DOHC 24V VVT-i 6-speed engine. Just a quick comparison here. The model I’m testing costs around $46K (I know! How can I go back to driving my ’05 Sienna?!). A sporty BMW X5 xDrive 30i has 260-hp. Comparing apples to apples, a 2010 Honda Odyssey Touring van has a 244-hp 3.5L SOHC i-VTEC V-6 engine. Even the Chrysler Town & Country Signature Series van with the 4.0L V6 SOHC engine has only 253-hp. Now, you can tell I’m a girl ;) and I’m basing this only by numbers ‘cause I don’t know a thing about engines other than they make the vehicle go, so take my opinion FWIW. I just know that I live in a city with a lot of hills and until now, I haven’t driven a vehicle where I’ve felt satisfied with the way it’s hauled me up those hills. There is a 187-hp 2.7L 4-Cyl DOHC 16V VVT-i engine available on the base and LE trim lines, but personally, I’d upgrade to the V-6. In city mileage is virtually unaffected between the two engines, dropping by only 1 mpg when upgrading (going from 19 to 18), and highway mileage is affected by 2 mpg (going from 26 to 24). All wheel drive further reduces mileage by a couple of miles per gallon.
  • Driver’s seat: It feels like a cockpit, kind of. On the Limited trim van that I drove, as soon as I buckled the seat belt, the seat remembered me and moved the chair into driving position. When I unbuckled, it moved away from the steering wheel for easy in/out. There are also 2 memory buttons for different drivers—very Lexus-like. One disappointment was the steering wheel adjustment. It was a manual adjustment that wasn’t programmable into the memory buttons and it was just clunky.
  • Screens and lots of them: If you opt for the package with the backup camera and navigation, there’s a big screen in the dash for that, then another screen in the upper dash for the time, temp, and air conditioning readouts. It’s a smart layout and the air controls were different enough that it took me a few minutes to orient myself to them. One irritant for me is that the dash is flat, which makes it hard to see the navigation screen and have the controls available to the driver. To make it a truly cockpit-style aimed for the driver, the dash should curve toward the driver.
  • Electric Power Steering: I mentioned this earlier, but wow, steering this van is like nothing else. The turning circle is as outstanding as it was on the 2nd gen Sienna, perhaps an inch smaller. The difference is that it requires almost no effort whatsoever to do the turning, yet I can still feel the road; it’s not spongy or wimpy.

Entertainment Systems

The Sienna has video screen options based on which trim line is chosen. The XLE and Limited have a built-in split-screen option that folds down from the ceiling. The split screen option requires a separate input in order to be used; for example, a video game system can be brought along and plugged in to the center console (yep, there are inputs for it) so one kid can play video games while the other watches a DVD. If the kids want to watch separate DVDs, you’ll have to plug in a portable DVD player, since the van only has one DVD player.  It comes with 2 wireless headsets and there are plugs on each side for headphones in the 3rd row.

The stereo system on the van I tested was a bit on the complicated side. I couldn’t figure out how to keep the display on the stereo controls instead of the navigation system, which was annoying to me. I like to glance at my stereo to know which station I’m listening to before I make the decision to change stations.  All models come with an auxiliary audio jack, but the bonus USB port with iPod connectivity isn’t standard until the XLE trim.  According to the manual, my iPhone wasn’t supposed to be compatible with the system, but it played my music fine.  It did not recognize my dh’s iPhone, however, so it’s a fickle system.  It does recognize regular iPods of all shapes and sizes.  The stereo is also XM compatible and you get a free trial with the XLE trim and higher.

Creature Features

Who wants cup holders? Why we do! I counted 14 cup and bottle holders in the XLE Limited I drove. The two rear cup holders in the deluxe center console pull toward the 2nd row captain’s chairs so those booster kids don’t have to get out of position to get their drinks. On the regular console, the cup holders for the 2nd row are down low, on the floor—not easy reaching for the kiddos.

  • Leg rests: This part is seriously sweet! Toyota calls it “Lounge Seating,” I’ve seen them called “Ottoman Chairs,” but whatever you want to call them, they’re comfortable. As an option on the XLE and standard on the Limited trim, the 2nd row captain’s chairs have fold out leg rests. My kids thought they were great for the road trip we took—no complaints about tired legs from them. I had to move the vehicle seats all the way back to touching the 3rd row in order to use them and my feet still touched the front seat. These wouldn’t work for my 6’5” dh, but I consider them a good option for those kids whose legs fall asleep because they don’t touch the floor yet.

 

 
 
 

 

  • Dual sunroofs: This is a nice touch, but whatever floats your boat, I guess. Just another button for the kids to fight over.
  • Heated front seats: Thanks to El Nino, we’ve had crazy weather ranging from winter temps to warm spring temps this past week.  The heated front seats were a wonderful treat!
  • Swivel personal lights: The passenger reading lights are round and swivel so you can aim where the beam goes and they’re separate from the door lights.
  • Don’t let the door hit you on the way out: One thing my ds noticed right away is the automatic door waits a bit before closing after he presses the button. He says he likes that :) . In our ’05 Sienna, he feels like sometimes his limbs are in danger of being chopped off because the door is after them.
  • 3rd row fold down: It’s a bit nicer to fold down the 60/40 split 3rd row. Instead of pulling straps, you pull a handle, which makes it a hair easier. Unless you get a top ‘o the line van and purchase the option with the automatic folding 3rd row. Not even my van had that option! The 3rd row is otherwise unchanged from previous models.

So, what do I think after driving the top of the line 2011 Toyota Sienna? Well, obviously I want one, lol! How can I not? It truly is nicer and more powerful than my dh’s (6 year old) Lexus. I wonder how it would compare to a Lexus? I still don’t want another van, but wow, I think the new Sienna is nice. It does have some major flaws as far as easy child restraint installation for Joe Q. Public is concerned, but I hope Toyota addresses those in the 2011.5 or 2012 version and adds some tether anchors at the very least. It would be a shame to take a van with such nice features and take it out of competition with other vans like the Honda Odyssey that has 3 full sets of LATCH with tether anchors in all 3rd row seating positions.  But if I turn my head the other way and remember that *my* kids don’t need tether anchors anymore, Mommy Love.

We have a 2011 Toyota Sienna thread on our Car Safety Forum at www.Car-Seat.org where there are discussions about the features plus pictures.

You can learn more about the Sienna at the Toyota website and download brochures as well. For pricing information, we recommend CarsDirect.com.

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Our van was supplied to us by the Walker Agency, courtesy of Toyota USA.